Monday, December 27, 2010


No doubt a few movie watchers stumbled accidentally upon the Irish movie The Eclipse, in expectation of seeing romantic vampires and teenaged angst, but they would have been misled. Hopefully though, they stayed with the film, which does have a supernatural element, because it is a wonderful production with fine acting and beautiful scenery. Although partly a ghost story, and even a romance, as well as a commentary on literary festivals and boorish writers, it is primarily about grief and letting go. I was a bit confused about one ghost, or I guess more correctly a pre-ghost, of a elderly man dealing with the loss of his daughter from cancer, bitterness at his lot in life, and anger at his son-in-law. Ciaran Hinds is awesome as the widower, dealing with his two children after the loss of his loved wife, as he also continues his teaching duties and his volunteer work at the annual literary festival, where he comes in contact with a beautiful writer of stories about ghosts just as he starts having visitations. Added into the mix is her being stalked by a smitten, pretentious, drunkard (ugly American?) brutish author (played well by Aiden Quinn). There are beautiful shots of Ireland. Although it is rated R, for language and some disturbing scenes, older teens could certainly handle it. The banshee cries are unnerving, however. I heartily recommend the movie, if you don't mind a few scary parts.

Monday, December 20, 2010


When one thinks of China, even in the late twentieth century, one often contemplates the economic giant, modernizing and dominating the Asian theatre if not the entire world; one thinks of huge, bustling cities and tough governmental control. But there are many seamy undersides, one of which is portrayed in Blind Mountain (2007). In the last decade of the twentieth century, a college-educated woman is kidnapped from a big city by flesh peddlers and is forced into marriage in a remote northern village. Stubbornly and persistently she resists her enslavement, despite brutal beatings and rapes, isolation and constant surveillance, repeatedly trying to escape or contact outside help. Members of the family use every tactic at their disposal to control her, from participating in her initial rape to attempting to draw her in through inducements and talks with women similarly betrothed, and the family eventually celebrates the pregnancy that develops. The entire community, in fact, accepts and embraces wife stealing, from top authorities on down---a rigid system that forces women into compliance and blocks any outside interference, even from national police authorities. The misogynistic families will do anything to win sons, but their destruction of female offspring leads to a large male population needing brides. The very attractive Huang Lu plays the determined, angry Bai Xuemei, who despite her brutalization, still finds time to help educate the young boys in the village. She is caught up in an affair (partly in hopes of using it to escape her captivity), but it is ferreted out by the family, and the man is driven from the village (seemingly more for having broken the strict system than actually cuckolding Bai’s husband. Each disappointment ratchets up her determination to escape, leading to a desperate conclusion. As disheartening and maddening as the film is for those rooting for Bai (reminding me a lot of how I felt at the injustice portrayed in the Iranian movie The Stoning of Soroya M.), there are lovely film sequences and beautiful backdrops, and the acting is pretty good. Some sections are a bit lengthy. One wonders how Chinese authorities reacted to the film (as officially such treatment of women is forbidden) and if this condition still exists. There are small insights as well, such as the payments expected for medical treatment (which I was surprised about since I thought medicine was socialist there), to the willingness of so many people to turn a blind eye. It is a film worth watching, but it will leave the viewer angry.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Prez O

I kind of like Robert DeNiro's assessment of the prez in a recent issue of Esquire:

"Everybody can criticize. But at the end of the day, you know Obama's intentions are in the right place."

Monday, December 13, 2010


Quiet hovers round building bend,
a presence missing, no sad portend,
furtive angels do what they will,
note from harp string fluttered still,
this biting wind, too cold to bear,
cheek scarred with a crystalline tear,
Magdalena’s gone, my token joyage,
thoughts are on your silent voyage.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Outside of one's relationships to family and close friends, most friendships are little more that fleeting acquaintances, ships passing by. If one's world is like a fragrant meadow, we would often be little more than butterflies visiting different flowers and occasionally scraping wings in pursuit of life’s nectars. But there are always favored flowers, petals that irresistibly invite, a kind smile and little compliment that brightens each day. If I were a butterfly, then it was I who over the last few years found myself frequently gravitating to a lovely flower named Magdalena Agosto. I always took the same path to the No Name Deli in hopes that I would catch her taking a break from her duties at the neighboring medical clinic, standing there with her cigarette, or eating a quick meal, or catching up on a page or two in her books, often fantasy romances. Maggie was from Puerto Rico, and she always called me Papi, and we chatted about books, children, and other topics that struck our fancy. She had a fairy’s laugh and always a twinkle in her eye, a devilish smile, and she almost always mentioned her daughter. She loved butterflies, and occasionally I would find something with one on it, or a piece of Puerto Rican painted pottery, and she was always delighted with them. I still remember how excited she was when I found spanish translations of the Twilight series. She was the same age as I am, and we connected. She never failed to put a smile on my face.

Today, one of the nurses came out from the clinic and told me that Maggie was gone. Aneurism. I am still struck dumb. It is amazing how such a small friendship, when it is gone, can leave a scar in the heart. I have felt like crying all day. I am going to miss her so much. A corner of my meadow has gone dark and it will be with heavy wings that I pass by it. I wish well to her family, her son and daughter, and grandchildren (I think there are two), and her many sisters and brothers. Descanse en paz, Maggie. This old butterfly will never forget you.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The Friday night production of Columbia Classical Ballet's annual Nutcracker at the Koger Center for the Arts delivered a sweet present to holiday dance lovers. It was full of change, and most of it for the better. The company, which appeared a bit smaller and younger this year, put on a delightful production that was sharp, colorful, and filled with more motion that I can remember seeing in past presentations. Artistic director Radenko Pavlovich introduced many new scenes and faces; alas, there were many missing as well. I missed seeing my favorite Japanese ballerinas, Akira Manabe and Kaori Yanagida, as well as my Brazilian friends, Renata and Waldelei. And the biggest absence, for me, was not seeing my son Joey up on stage, but he decided he wanted a sabbatical this year. I also missed working behind-the-scenes, especially watching the dancers from the wings, which I always find interesting (though I didn't necessarily miss children-sitting duties); but Joey got to see the performance in its entirety for the first time in years and he enjoyed it. Unlike past performances, there weren't the frequent clothing mishaps of last year---in fact, the new costumes were colorful and well put together. It seemed to me that the men, this year, outshone the women; I liked that Radenko put men in scenes that I can't recall them being a part of before. There were far fewer children involved, who at times gummed things up (probably to the chagrin of many parents, who naturally want to see more of their little darlings).

The majority of changes were to the first two sections, starting with the opening scene featuring ice skaters cavorting and fighting. Radenko did away with the well-trod former opening scene (that had featured a string of dancers crossing the stage to attend the party). The new scene was more riveting and enjoyable, and I hope he keeps it in. I also loved that he finally got rid of those darn giant bat heads and went instead with masks. Returning dancer DeeDee Rosner stole the entire show with her portrayal of grandmother in the party scene. She absolutely nailed it, and the crowd loved her. I wonder if she has considered musical stage. Usually Larry Payne, as Mother Ginger, gets the laughs from the audience, but DeeDee outdid him this year for comedy. I wasn't thrilled with the rat/soldier portion as compared to past shows. Joey didn't like it all, especially that the rats had the guns and the soldiers kept marching into the fire with swords.

Many returning dancers---Zolton Boros, Edward Persondek, Lauren Frere, Aoi Anraku, Oleksander Vykhrest, Saif Wilkes-Davis, and others---reprised former roles or took on new ones, and they all did a good job. Individual dancers were better than others, and there was the occasional slip, but they seemed energized and as if they were enjoying themselves.

I was impressed with two additions to the company. I really enjoyed Russian Ivan Popov, who danced for a while with the San Francisco Ballet, and Brazilian Jose Pereira.

The second half was not so different from past performances, and didn't quite live up to the promise of the first half, but it was still enjoyable. I didn't care for the costume worn by Ryosuke Ogura, a new member, in the Chinese dance. That one could stand some revision as well. The Arabian scene was not as well danced as in the past.

Overall, it was a nice night of dance. The boys were very good and Joey was riveted. I hope it gets him back in the company soon.